Judge orders radio case be reconsidered

The Broadcasting Standards Authority has been ordered to have another look at a case involving comments by an academic, broadcast by Radio New Zealand and accusing former National Front secretary Kerry Bolton of having connections to Holocaust deniers.

Radio New Zealand appealed to the High Court at Auckland after the authority upheld Mr Bolton's complaint over comments made by Auckland sociologist Scott Hamilton in June last year.

During an interview on Chris Laidlaw's Sunday morning radio show, Dr Hamilton said Mr Bolton had close connections with convicted Australian Holocaust-denier Frederick Toben.

Mr Bolton also objected to Dr Hamilton's view that he was the "inventor" of the Celtic New Zealand theory, that he had infiltrated the anti-war movement and the Palestine Solidarity movement, and that he had "exercised influence over unwary youth".

In its original finding, the authority said Dr Hamilton had provided "scant" evidence to support his claims. "Dr Hamilton has not been able to provide any other supporting material that would lend support for his assertion that Mr Bolton is actively and industriously promoting Holocaust denial within this country."

However, the High Court has now forced the authority to reconsider the case, with greater emphasis on determining the accuracy of what Dr Hamilton said.

In his judgment, Justice Joseph Williams put the onus back on the authority, saying it "must reach a finding of inaccuracy on one or more of the subject statements before proceeding to consider whether reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the inaccurate statement was accurate".

The decision placed a burden on the authority to make further investigations "or to conclude, perhaps unsatisfactorily, that the complaint is unproved", he said.

Authority chief executive Dominic Sheehan said the complaints board would meet on August 18 to discuss how it would apply the terms of the judgment.

"The onus is always on the broadcaster to maintain standards that are in keeping with the codes of broadcasting practice. If we can determine the accuracy of something which the broadcaster hasn't necessarily determined the accuracy of, we will. If we can't, then we'll decline to determine it.

"It gives us a great opportunity to look at the standard again, based on what the judge has said, and maybe re-interpret the complaint."

Radio New Zealand would not comment because the case was still before the authority.

Laidlaw said the case was an example of the "hazardous" nature of broadcasting. "What happens when people are live on radio is over to them – you can only control it so much."

The Dominion Post